Container gardening at Ellis Bird Farm

By Karen Kirk

I hope you enjoyed my last post on the Ellis Bird Farm, a wildlife conservation area supported by local industry and the community of Lacombe in Alberta. If you’re in the area, try to plan a visit with your family before the season ends. It’s truly an amazing place where the stresses of day-to-day life dissolve and are replaced with the simple wonders of nature. There’s so much to see and learn. The kids (young and old) will absolutely love it!

As promised, here’s more on the gardens at Ellis Bird Farm.

Garden accents are a feast for the eye (and for the birds and wildlife!)

Climbing Rose

Fragrant roses climb a trellis on the sunny side of the Ellis Bird Farm Tea House. Photo by Karen Kirk


The gardens play a starring role at the farm. Maintained by Ellis Bird Farm’s head gardener, Cynthia Pohl (below, left), the gardens are inspired by the original owners, siblings Charlie and Winnie Ellis, who surrounded their farmhouse with beds planted to feed, shelter and attract birds and butterflies.

Cynthia & Mryna

Head gardener Cynthia Pohl with botanist and site services manager Myrna Pearman                                                    Photo by Karen Kirk


Double-duty containers

I really love how Pohl salvaged vessels from around the farm to create eye-catching containers to adorn the property. Even Charlie’s prized nesting boxes have been put to work. Mounted on the wall of a wee building, each little abode has it’s own garden of colourful annuals. Copy this look on the garden shed in your own backyard!

Bird House Garden

A colourful collage of nesting boxes on an old shed wall reminds visitors of Charlie and his sister Winnie’s passion for mountain bluebirds.                                    Photo by Karen Kirk


The Ellis Bird Farm Tea House – housed in the original farmhouse – serves up local fare and a spot of tea in the quaint tea room and on the patio. A weathered twig chair (below) on the patio by the ice cream window is the perfect perch for an old galvanized wash bucket brimming with petunias, Calibrachoa (a.k.a. million bells pink) and Scaevola.

Twig Chair

An old twig chair with a bucket of annuals lures visitors to the ice cream window. Photo by Karen Kirk


Whimsical garden accents crafted from material salvaged from the farm’s old barns, grain elevator and farmhouse aren’t just eye candy; they provide shelter for birds and wildlife. All are welcome!

Cobbled from fallen branches, a trellis bench supports a wash bucket with vines and, of course, more nesting boxes. Charlie would approve! Photo by Karen Kirk


In every nook and cranny around the farm, you’ll find one of Pohl’s creations. Nothing goes to waste. The old farmhouse iron and enamel tub is tucked into a wooded area where it attracts bees and butterflies. I love the white and green colour scheme. It’s a simple way to bring light into a dark corner of the garden – and it’s oh-so-stunning!


Bathtub planter

The old farmhouse bathtub overflows with petunias and a licorice plant Helichrysum. Photo by Karen Kirk


Old wooden barrels filled with a variety of annuals (below) add colour, texture and a lovely scent to the Tea House patio at Ellis Bird Farm. Large containers like these can be too heavy to move once planted, so make sure you’ve positioned them exactly where you want them before potting them. Adding clean, empty plastic potting or food containers to the bottoms of the barrels before filling with soil and plants will make them lighter and easier to move around.

Barrel Planters

Old barrels planted with a variety of annuals brighten the Tea House patio.     Plant in foreground is Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas).                Photo by Karen Kirk





Just steps from the Tea House kitchen, herbs and cherry tomatoes are potted to be picked fresh for the chef’s delicious summer recipes.

Herb Garden

The Ellis Bird Farm Tea House chef’s herb garden                                              Photo by Karen Kirk


Finding neat garden vessels – for cheap

I often spot galvanized buckets and other unusual containers in various shapes and sizes while taking day-trips to the country for local farm auctions and garage sales. Just poke holes in the bottom for drainage and you’re ready to plant anything from flowers and grasses to veggies and herbs!  My favourite country antique flea market is Aberfoyle Antique Market. I started going with my mom when I was 11 or 12 years old. (You know, just a few years back!)

Tell me about your favourite places to hunt for fabulous finds.